UAE to relax restrictions on sharing of healthcare data

Dubai - The worldwide Big Data in healthcare market is forecasted to be worth $78.03 billion in another six years.

By Suneeti Ahuja-Kohli

Published: Sun 30 May 2021, 12:11 PM

Last updated: Tue 1 Jun 2021, 12:47 PM

The UAE government is working on an addendum to the Health ICT Law which will allow transfer of health data outside the UAE. As of now, health-related data cannot be transferred outside the emirates.

The addendum will allow exceptions to this rule, said Dr Osama El Hassan, Specialist, Health Informatics & Smart Health Department, Dubai Health Authority, at the first Middle East Digital Health Forum on Thursday.

“We are working on an addendum to the ICT Law making exemptions on when we will be able to allow health data to go outside the country. I believe, it will be very useful during the Covid era to organise how data will flow from healthcare organisation to non-healthcare organisation,” said Dr Osama El Hassan.

“We will put restriction on how this data can be exchanged and also mention how companies can govern data better by say how they are going to communicate with patients through emails, text messages,” he added.

The UAE Health ICT Law was introduced in 2019 and it seeks to protect health data in line with international best practices. This law introduced a general prohibition on the transfer of health data outside the UAE, and did not provide any exceptions to the rule. An addendum to this law will be welcomed by the industry and bring more clarity at a time when data analytics is playing a pivotal role in healthcare space.

Good governance of data also means giving patients choice and empowering them. “Consent management is an important constituent part of data governance, especially when patients are given an option to say yes or no. This can be when seeking their permission on texting them information or clinical trial, for instance. The second pillar is building more awareness. How their date will be used, how can you build trust and what public good will come out of their data. The third point is they should be able to see the benefit or impact of this kind of exchange of data information in form of better care, predictive care,” Dr Osama added.

A rise in demand for analytics solutions for health management for the population is driving the demand for Big Data in the Healthcare market globally. The worldwide Big Data in healthcare market is forecasted to be worth $78.03 billion in another six years. While the growing adoption of big data in healthcare is revolutionising the industry, privacy and patient rights will also be the top concerns for regulators.

“Data is everything and it can be used in two ways: One is prevention of diseases and diagnosis of future diseases, and second is for treatment. Whether it is used for diagnosis or prevention, the data flow is very important. I think with Covid, we have learnt that it is not only treating the sick, that is important but also creating taking preventive measures through surveillance. It is all about how we are preparing ourselves for the future and this is why flow of data is crucial,” said Marwan Abdulaziz Janahi, Managing Director, Dubai Science Park

Talking about how we can prepare well for the next pandemic, Farah Shaikh, general manager, Gulf & Levant, IQVIA, said, “We should move from curative to prescriptive care serving three objectives: Improving clinical patient outcome, reducing cost, and improving efficiencies so that we can be prepared for the next pandemic.”

Talking about the future of health space in the UAE and how can tech companies be incentivised to play a larger role, Ravi Akella, Senior Director, Digital/ Technology, Middle East, IQVIA, said: “I think if we truly have a unified platform, it could put UAE in a unique position. In the future if we could make data available to startup companies, with the right authorisation and authentication in place, they would be able to provide a lot more creative solution. Also, if we can allow data democratisation, and use data to provide better services, I think we could actually transform the UAE’s healthcare tremendously.”

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